The Evil AfterBirth

Maternity ward pt. 5

Image by roxeteer via Flickr

Autism has been linked with difficult births. So it doesn’t surprise me that I’m often asked if there was anything unusual with the pregnancy or birth of my first-born son. I’ve decided to do some posts that answer that question. As to whether the difficulties I had with my son, have anything to do with autism, I do not know. But they’re here for the record anyway.

Warning, these are not nice stories. The story I am about to share is particularly disturbing. It’s quite personal too, so I may be tempted to remove the post with the benefit of hind-sight. Part of why I’m sharing it is for the catharsis of getting it out, because carrying this around with me is hard. So here we go, for better or worse…

I thought it was over. I was finally holding my newborn baby to my chest. He was now breathing, after help from the team of doctors and nurses. He was safe in my arms and all I wanted to do was hold him, for hours, for days, forever. But something was wrong with me now, and it wasn’t registering through my happy haze. They kept giving me instructions, something about lower this body part, relax that body part, push a little… why couldn’t they just let me alone – I’d given birth, right? I thought it was over.

But there was the placenta delivery – the “afterbirth“. It wasn’t coming out. I remember a woman trying to literally heave it out of me – my husband told me later that she had trouble keeping her footing while she slipped on my blood on the floor. There was a lot of blood. Too much. And it just kept coming out, but the placenta wasn’t. I could sense their growing panic, then they started trying to talk to me about what was happening. They told me that they were going to have to take me to have my placenta removed, and that I might have to have a hysterectomy to stop the bleeding if the placenta removal didn’t go well. It’s still a blur, trying to remember the words, but I remember the emotions with horrible clarity.

That’s when they started the endless questions. The same questions would be asked of me, over and over. I can’t even remember all the questions – something about blood type and what my name was. Later, right before surgery, I would simply refuse to answer them anymore.

They took my baby from me, and gave him to be bewildered husband, as they wheeled me from the delivery room off to surgery. I remember the ceiling, some lights passing by, a faint memory of wondering what I must look like, being wheeled bleeding at pace through the hospital. The horror of what was going on piling in on me. While they got the surgery room ready, I started begging for my baby, I wanted to go back to him. I told them I’d get up and walk back if I had to, they held me down. I started to vomit. With the force of each retch, I could feel the blood rushing out the other end of my body. I was terrified at the feel of the fluid leaving me, I weakly tried to tell them I was bleeding, but they already knew that, and my voice was ineffectual anyway.

Once the surgery room was ready, they gave me something to control my nausea and to try to calm me down. They transferred me to a new bed, with my arms out to the side. So many things were hooked up to me, and going into me, I couldn’t keep track of it all. The midwife held my hand as I quietly cried. And then they did something so unusual, so surreal, it was beyond my imagining. I was well and truly in nightmare territory now.

A room full of people – nurses, midwife, who knows who else. One female doctor with a very long glove on. She put her entire arm up me, to manually remove my placenta. Piece, by piece. Because it was in pieces, and it was not coming out by itself. Finally, she thought she’d got it all out. But it wasn’t over. She had to put her arm back in and massage my uterus to get it to contract. That took a while too. I was fully awake, and I had an epidural in. So I wasn’t in pain, but I could “feel” everything. Every tug, every motion. I was utterly miserable, but all I could do was just look away and cry, and think of my baby.

When it was over I was wheeled to recovery. I was meant to sleep now, but I kept asking if my baby was OK, and if I could hold him soon. I couldn’t stop asking. I fell asleep still asking.

I woke up in a room with my baby asleep near by. I couldn’t go to see him because my legs weren’t working – it would be over a day before I was able to use my legs and even pee for myself, again. I was offered a blood transfusion, I had lost a significant proportion of my body’s blood. I stupidly turned it down – they shouldn’t’ have let me make that particular decision. My husband, or my mother, or anyone but me should have made that call for me. I was too exhausted in every way imaginable to be asked anymore questions that expected rational answers. I paid the price for saying no, with an extremely long recovery time, while also trying to look after and feed a newborn. Instead they put me on large doses of iron tablets.

Later, they asked if I wanted to keep my placenta, and asked if they could otherwise use it for teaching purposes because it had been so unusual. I hated my placenta, the idea of keeping something so cruel, seemed absurd. I was happy for it go off and be their freak show, as long as it was nowhere near me.

Years later, after I’d given birth to my second son, as I held him to my chest, I knew it wasn’t finished. Until that placenta was out of me, it wasn’t over. That time the placenta came out as it should, when it should, and I even got to see it. It looked like a giant roast-sized chunk of meat. I didn’t want to keep it that time either, but this time it wasn’t going off for scientific purposes, it was just another placenta. The functional normal version, that had sustained and nourished my baby for nine months.

Like so many other things in my first-born’s life, I would look back over the years and wonder whether he wouldn’t have been autistic – or his autism would have been less severe – if things had gone differently. I’ve even thought that if only I’d held him for longer, instead of being wheeled away for surgery after birth…

But those thoughts are irrational, desperate, and unhelpful. All it does is add guilt to a situation I had no control over – unfounded guilt. As I write this my five year-old autistic son is happily running around the room, stopping occasionally to snack at his after-school meal. A school that he loves. A home that he loves. Even a mother that he loves. I must have done something right.

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11 Responses to The Evil AfterBirth

  1. demelza says:

    I too had a huge PPH after my first birth, it was horrid and scary and I remember being wheeled to theatre thinking I was dying and joking that it was like being on six foot under (the whole laying on the bed and the white lights above you) I was lucky, they gave me a general anaesthetic and I remember nothing, my placenta came away in pieces too, I was given blood, I had no choice I had lost over 2 litres… I feel guilt that my daughter was given formula, instead of breastfeeding, that we had very little skin to skin, that she spent time in neonates because she was iugr.

    Thankfully my next 3 births were great, and I have kept all of their placentas, they are in the freezer waiting for us to take them to our favourite place in the south island…

    Sounds like you had a difficult birth, whether that can be attributed to your sons autism I don’t know…

    big hugs from one whos been there too.

    • Thank you demelza. I’m sorry you went through the same hell, and I’m so glad the rest of your pregnancies went well after that.

      I do feel better for having shared this, and it does help to hear from other people who went through the same.

      • demelza says:

        at least we survived, if I had birthed 100 years ago and bleed like that we probably wouldnt have. Its not nice though and I might blog about it too at some stage, just to get rid of some of the guilt…. parenting does seem to have a lot of guilt associated really.


      • I’ve had the same thoughts demelza – both about not surviving 100 years ago, and about the guilt that seems to come with parenting.

        I would be really interested in reading your own post on it if you decide to do one. Please do post a link to it here if you do.

  2. Stef says:

    Urgh this brings back memories. After my D&C (which was supposed to clean things out) I had the same thing, lots of blood and gushing. They gave me some injections and shunted me off. I got home went for a snooze and woke up to horrible cramps. I got up but I didn’t make properly into the toilet thus the bathroom ended up looking like a bad horror movie as I passed something jelly-like which turned out to be a fist-sized blood clot. This incident kicked off weeks antibiotics/bloodtests + 2 night hospital stay for retained products. Placentas are evil.

    • Oh hon, that’s horrible. It must have been so damn scary to go through that at home, and so incredibly cruel not to be able to say “and it was all worth it”. I really feel for you. I don’t think I can truly know how hard that was for you. xxx

  3. Helen Love says:

    Please don’t blame yourself. What happened to you was tragic, and I am verry sorry you went through that. That is one of my biggest criticisms of DAN/ARI/complementary medicine for autism. They make you think it was something you exposed your kid to and now you should fix it with their treatments. Also, blood transfusions can have complications. The longer the blood is stored, the more red blood cells burst and release toxins. Iron pills are now recommended for mild cases of anemia. It took Jehovah’s witnesses refusing blood for doctors to notice they actually had better outcomes. I learned this by listening to a hematologist speak of her experience with patients who refused transfusions. She will use IV iron in more severe anemia. In fact, the government is now mandating as part of healthcare reform to reduce blood transfusions. If you have an autistic child, you are more likely to have genetic immune problems, making it even riskier for you to have a transfusion.

    I went through something similar. I had a preemie and they drugged me and kept asking me if I wanted my tubes tied. I should not have been asked this while under the influence of muscle relaxers. I could not have given any type of real informed consent. I could sue them for that, very irresponsible. Next time I have a child or enter the hospital, I will make sure to have an advocate to stand up for me.

  4. Leah says:

    Thank you for posting! It takes a lot of courage to say what you did. I just gave birth a week ago today and the exact same thing happened to me. It was horrible and I still think about it everyday. I didn’t hold my son for my than about a minute before they took him from me and wheeled me out. The doctor didn’t get all of my placenta because i passed about a 1/4 of it the next day. I couldn’t breastfeed in the hospital and had to get a blood transfusion as well. I lost the about the first 24 hours of my son’s life. Thank goodness for husbands. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Daizy says:

    Thank you for your post which I found you browsing about autism. The same things with manual removed placenta happen to me 4 years ago. It was the second hardest night in my life. Everything is gone now, it seems I almost forgot it. But unfortunately my lovely little son has autism. We’ve been diagnosed couple a months ago and I still looking for answer. Why he? 😦

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